In June 2014, Union minister Gopinath Munde lost his life for not wearing the rear seat belt when his car met with an accident in the national capital. In September 2015, an Air India employee Shakambri Zutshi Dhar died after crashing through the windshield when the car she was travelling in hit a truck. She too was not wearing the rear seat belt, while her driver, who had strapped on the belt, was saved.
Yet, using the rear seat belt in a car continues to remain just a choice in India. Concerns over safe travel and the law governing motor vehicles emerged again on Monday when three out of seven students died after their car fell off a flyover in the city.
Prima facie the police said it was “unlikely” that the victims had tied the seatbelt as the car was carrying passengers beyond its capacity. Traffic police officials say that even if they do prosecute violators, enforcement still is a challenge “beyond a point”.
They said enforcement becomes difficult not only because Delhi now has over 1 crore vehicles, but also because non-BS-IV complaint cars do not have rear seat belts.
About Monday’s fatal car accident, a traffic police official said, “They were certainly over speeding, but the fact that three were sitting in the front and four were on the rear seat worsened the situation.”
According to the transport department, every vehicle has a fixed number of passengers it can carry. “The RC (registration certificate) of every car clearly specifies the number of persons it can carry. But, this is blatantly violated. While the violation is often overlooked in personal cars, it is maximum in the case of school cabs and trucks,” said an official.
The department also said that the seating capacity of every vehicle used to be visible in the paper RCs which have not been phased out. “In the chip based cards, the seating capacity is no longer visible so people are not aware at the first place,” the official added.
Experts, however, said it should not be difficult for people to understand how many people a car is meant to carry. “In a Honda City, for example, which was the car that met with the accident on Monday, there are three rear seat belts and two in the front. Which means only five people should ideally sit in it,” said Rohit Baluja, president of the Institute of Road Traffic Education.
Explaining Monday’s accident further, traffic officials added that manoeuvrability for the driver becomes difficult if someone, in this case the third person on the front seat of the car, sits on the gear box. “One leg would be on the driver’s side and another towards the leg space of the front seat. There are chances that person’s feet could touch the car’s accelerator,” the official said.
Besides, experts have raised concerns over ambiguity of the clause in the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016. “The new law raises the penalty for not wearing seat belts from Rs100 to Rs1,000. But, there is still no clarity whether wearing rear seat belts are mandatory or not,” Baluja added.